Teaching English by accident: The art of travel improvisation

The adventure is never over

"Namaste class..."

"This is Mr. George. He will teach you many things, about many kinds of things...and he will make you laugh."

My mouth goes dry as my palms begin to sweat. I try to suppress my shocked expression - in front of the classroom full of 9-year-olds - as the Headmaster hands me a piece of chalk, steps aside, and lays his eyes upon me expectantly. It's at this point in the story that I should tell you that I am not a teacher. I have never taught a class before, and hadn't planned on starting now. Nevertheless, I turned to the class, took a deep breath, and let out a feeble, "Namaste…"

The adventure was over.

A month of safaris, paragliding, getting lost too many times to remember, hiking the Himalaya, dodging bedbugs, making new friends, leaving old ones...I had spent over a month in Nepal and had done what I came there to do. Now I was back in Balaju, a quiet suburb (on the verge of rural) outside of downtown Kathmandu. I was with a family I had stayed with previously and had a week before leaving for the States. I had been planning to head back to Thamel - the downtown commercial tourist trap cesspool - that now carried an odd familiar warmth, the same way that Times Square does for locals who have been away from New York City for a long time. I was looking forward to spurning the tiger balm salesmen and hanging out at the tourist joints, people watching, and gathering some overpriced souvenirs. The adventure was over, I told myself.

That morning, as I sipped my minty coffee (that adjective is not an accident), my host - let's call him Gary for the sake of identity protection - Gary asked me if I would like to teach at a school nearby. It should be noted that although Gary's English was very good, every so often, idiomatic phrases would fall through the cracks and I assumed this was the case here. I am not a teacher. I like to think that I give instruction reasonably well, and my friends might accuse me of being pedantic on occasion (especially when using words like "pedantic"). But it must be distinctly understood that I have never been formally trained as an educator nor had I declared any such ability to my host.

Consequently, I assumed that "teaching" meant "tour a Nepalese school" or at the most "show and tell your American". Students would ask a few questions: Where are you from? What is it like there? Bada-bing bada-boom, time to skedaddle. Content in this blissful ignorance, I accepted the teaching contract. After breakfast, Gary's father walked me through the dusty streets and delivered me to a school teacher on her way to school, the way an apple is presented to a devoted educator. The suburban enclave in Balaju rustled gently in the morning sun as we arrived at the black iron gates of the school.

I was hurriedly introduced to the headmaster. A man of 50 some odd years, blessed with a rich olive complexion, and dressed in a grey suit. He told me to sit on the porch as class would begin shortly. As I watched the children play football (the true world religion, don't let anyone tell you otherwise) in the shadow of the 3 story concrete schoolhouse, I thought optimistically that perhaps I'd simply be observing. Boy was I wrong.

"Namaste class."

"Namaste." the children answer.

"Good morning." I say, redundantly.

"Good morning." they parrot, already a bit wary of this strange substitute standing before them.

I take a look at the Headmaster - who, at least in my imagination, appears to be smiling maniacally - and I decide it's time to jump in. With a flurry of chalk dust and overstated enthusiasm I write on the board while saying aloud:

"My...name...is...Mr. George."

"I...am...from...New York City."

"I...work...at...a...Chinese food restaurant."


I spin around with a chipper, "Any questions?"


At this point, I can feel my mouth move but I'm not sure what I'm saying. The 9-year-old faces grow long and weary until suddenly I blurt out, "Who wants to hear a song?". The class nods in relative excitement and I dive into the deep end. I begin with a little beatbox. Some tapping on the desks. I throw some melody out ("8 Days A Week", Lennon/McCartney your check is in the mail). I'm in. The class is smiling and clapping and bopping around. I look over and notice the Headmaster is gone.

I sing a few more songs while trying to come up with my next trick. Scouring my brain for some rabbit to pull out of my metaphorical hat, I reach deep down, and pull out the first thing that comes out.

"Today we're going to learn haikus," I say. "Who knows what a poem is?"

All hands up.

"Who knows what a syllable is?"

All hands down. Minor setback. No matter, we'll substitute words for syllables. 5 words. 7 words. 5 words. Following a brief history lesson, ("haikus are poems invented somewhere in Japan at some point in history…") I write on the board:

Tea is good for me

I like to drink tea and milk

Tea I like the most

Give me a break, I'm under pressure. Confident in my newfound pedagogical abilities I ask the class to take out a sheet of paper and draw spaces for each word. We fill them out, Mad Lib-style, and present them to the rest of the class. I sit back, beaming like a proud parent.

At this point, the Headmaster suddenly reappears and relieves me of my duties with a real teacher. I bid the students farewell and let out a sigh. Not a bad curriculum really. Intros, songs, haikus. I could do this all day, I think proudly.

"Ready for a bigger class?" asks the Headmaster. The chalk slips from my grasp, as my mouth goes dry, and my legs quiver once more.

Oh dear.

Read More from Journiest

Subscribe now

Related Posts

5 Countries to Visit This Fall

As the weather starts to chill out, we're just getting warmed up to travel

It's not winter yet!

So that means, we're all about that fall travel. It's a beautiful time of year to be outside in many countries, soaking up the colorful landscapes and fresh air. Here are our picks for the top places to visit this fall.

1. Germany


Burg Eltz Castle is a magical step back into the Middle Ages that's been here for more than 850 years.

2. Switzerland


The red leaves in Bern are absolutely striking.

3. Italy


Nothing like the sheer beauty of the formidable Italian alps.

4. Peru


Machu Picchu beckons visitors from near and far this fall.

5. Mexico


It's not too cold to skip the beach!

Everyone has heard of the murder-hotel where dark shadows creep at the edge of your vision, or the abandoned house where the furniture moves each time you leave the room.

But sometimes the places set up to capture the fun and fright of the Halloween season for paying customers can be far more horrifying than any ghost stories. These "fake" haunted houses will leave you genuinely haunted.

Pennhurst Haunted Asylum

So spoooky!

Thomas James Caldwell

Pennhurst Asylum was in operation from 1908-1987 in the small town of Spring City, Pennsylvania. While we don't have all the records of the residents' experiences there, it doesn't take much imagination to realize that this building was home to true horrors. In many ways, 1908 wasn't that long ago, but in terms of mental health treatment—especially in small-town Pennsylvania—it was absolutely the dark ages. This was the time of lobotomies, straight jackets, and shock therapy. Whatever the jump scares and fake blood contribute to the fear you will feel walking through Pennhurst Asylum's aging, echoing halls, they can't come close to the deep, sinking feeling caused by the deep history of torment that has left its imprint on the very fabric of the place. Four spooky skulls out of five.


Haunted Trap House

Like this, but less 90s

In Centreville, Maryand, in the year 1989, a group of visionaries were struck by a bolt of inspiration. What if—instead of zombies and werewolves and demons, and all the stuff out of children's nightmares—what if they filled their haunted house with the real-world nightmares that were actually infesting their city, killing their residents, and generally afflicting every corner of the entire nation. Thus, the Haunted Crack House was born. Since renamed the Haunted Trap House, it's ostensibly an educational experience on the dangers of drug use, it features simulations of overdoses, arrests, and shootings, as well as actual former convicts who are paid to draw on their real experiences to make your visit as terrifying as possible. This kind of fetishizing of human misery to capitalize on the Halloween season is as despicable as it is spooky. Four-and-a-half skulls out of five.


McKamey Manor

He technically consented to this

A $20,000 reward? A 40-page waiver? These figures have garnered a lot of attention in recent headlines. Supposedly this is the "scariest" haunted house experience in the country. Who could resist the temptation of that once-in-a-lifetime experience, combined with the chance to win a big cash prize? Unfortunately, that is exactly what Russ McKay wants. There's a reason he's put so much work into the legal side of his operation. Rather than gassing up neutered chainsaws and chasing you around in a hockey mask, McKay has opted for producing actual, real, straight-up torture. You may not find the decorations and costumes that scary, but you will absolutely fear for your life when you consent to be water-boarded with fake blood. For being operated by a man who is clearly an unhinged psychopath, McKamey Manor ties the Haunted Traphouse, with four-and-a-half spooky skulls.


Donald Vann's House of Horrors

Donald Vann murdered eleven people. Happens to the best of us, but it does present a problem. How do you dispose of all those bodies? Donald's solution was to open a haunted house and put his victims' decaying remains on display as props. Props to him. For eight months he prepared his fetid, malodorous horrors, before debuting on October 1st. Unfortunately, you won't be able to visit his house of horrors, because he has since landed in some legal trouble—board of health, maybe?—but I'm sure for the lucky few who were able to visit during its brief tenure, and witness Vann's "psychotic smirk," I'm sure the nightmares they're left with keep on spooking.


Every Hell House in America


In the same vein as the Haunted Traphouse, Hell Houses are church presentations intended as educational experiences that warn kids and teens away from the path of sin. Their methods for achieving this obviously vary, but according to The Washington Post, you can generally expect the following: "A devil ushers a gay man dying of AIDS into the fiery pit. A teenager who is raped at a drug-filled rave commits suicide and also goes to hell. A young girl hemorrhaging from an abortion repents at the last minute." Awful. Truly sickening. What kind of trauma are they inflicting on these children to prop up their outdated ideologies? Six spooky skulls. Where'd that extra skull come from?? Nobody knows…



The 10 Best Ethically-Conscious Zoos Across America

From coast to coast, these zoos are doing their part to help wildlife.

With fall weather making us all eager to spend more time outdoors, it's the perfect time of year to pay a visit to the zoo.

Just about every major city has a zoo where visitors can get up close and personal with wild animals, but of course, not all zoos are created equal. Particularly if you've watched Tiger King, you probably already know that some zoos do much more harm than good.

Thankfully, there are also many zoos who are doing great work in conservation efforts and creating the best environment possible for their animals and the animal lovers who want to visit them. Below, we've rounded up just a few of the most ethical zoos in the United States.

San Diego Zoo

As one of the most popular zoos in the country, the San Diego Zoo specializes in endangered animals and focuses on saving them from extinction. They also partner with other zoos around the world to share their research in rehabilitation and conservation that would be difficult, if not impossible, to conduct in the wild.

Austin Zoo

Located on the outskirts of Austin, Texas, the Austin Zoo started as a goat ranch and has gradually grown into one of the state's most animal-friendly zoos. Now boasting over 300 animals from over 100 species, the Austin Zoo operates with a mission to assist animals in need, taking in exotic animals that need to be rescued or rehomed due to a variety of reasons.

Indianapolis Zoo

With a strong commitment to conservation, the Indianapolis Zoo supports efforts around the world to save endangered animals and their land. They are home to over 1,400 animals in habitats that closely mimic those of the wild and have been adopting more eco-friendly practices in addition to their conservation efforts.

Woodland Park Zoo

Located in Seattle, Washington, the Woodland Park Zoo is one of the country's most ethical zoos. They focus on recreating their animals' natural habitats as closely as possible, and the zoo also has conservationist breeding programs on-site to help grow the populations of endangered species.

St. Louis Zoo

Not only is the St. Louis Zoo free to visit, but it's absolutely massive; here, you'll find 19,000 animals from 600 species over a sprawling 90 acres. According to their website, the zoo has "witnessed dozens of cheetah births, hatched and reared endangered Micronesian kingfishers and returned Puerto Rican crested toad tadpoles to ponds in their native homeland—to name only a few successes." The St. Louis Zoo also has a program called the WildCare Institute, which takes a holistic approach to healing troubled ecosystems.

Bronx Zoo

The Bronx Zoo might not be the first attraction you think of when it comes to New York City's outer boroughs, but it offers a much-needed slice of wildlife in the concrete jungle. This zoo is home to award-winning habitats that span over 265 acres. Outside of the city, the Bronx Zoo employs thousands of conservationists who work to protect endangered exotic animals in the world's most threatened environments.

Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

In addition to impressive worldwide conservation efforts, the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium—located in Omaha, Nebraska—features the world's largest geodesic dome. This dome creates a realistic desert environment that acts as a home to countless animals and plants.

Columbus Zoo

Ohio's Columbus Zoo houses over 7000 animals from over 800 species. They've made great strides in breeding endangered animals, such as the three polar bear cubs who were born at the zoo in 2016. The Columbus Zoo also boasts a massive 100,000-gallon coral reef tank, and some of the country's best primate habitats.

Alaska Zoo

It should come as no surprise that the Alaska Zoo is a fantastic place to see your favorite arctic and subarctic animals. Located in the city of Anchorage, this zoo focuses on arctic creatures you won't find at your zoos in the continental United States. They especially focus on polar bear rescue.

Denver Zoo

Colorodans are known for their love of the great outdoors, and their appreciation for Mother Nature translates into the practices at the Denver Zoo. They were the first zoo in the country to go above and beyond usual conservation efforts by getting rid of traditional enclosures, creating realistic habitats for their 4,000 creatures from over 600 different species.